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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 12:33 GMT

UK Politics

'Anti-sleaze' reforms cap election spending

The anti-sleaze package draws on recommendations from Lord Neill

The government will impose a statutory cap on election campaign spending by political parties as part of a wide-ranging "anti-sleaze" package of reforms.

The Queen's Speech
The Political Parties and Referendums Bill will also outlaw foreign donations and require the names of large donors to be disclosed.

The bill draws on the recommendations of the anti-sleaze Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Neill.

It will also lay down rules for referendum campaigns, providing "modest support" from public funding for umbrella organisations campaigning on either side of the issue.

The provisions contained in the bill will have implications on the government's plans to hold a referendum, at some as-yet unspecified date, on signing up to the European single currency.

While the bill will set spending limits on the parties and other organisations campaigning in a referendums, the government argues that it would be impractical to try to equalise the sums exactly.

Instead, the aim will be to try to ensure that particular parties or other organisations do not have a "disproportionate voice" simply due to the wealth at their disposal.

The government of the day will be prevented from distributing literature to the public in the 28-day period prior to any national referendum.

The bill will also establish an independent Electoral Commission which will be responsible for registering political parties and overseeing their donations and spending, as well as promoting knowledge of systems of government and the democratic process.

A separate measure, the Representation of the People Bill, will introduce new electoral procedures, including allowing local authorities to pilot arrangements such weekend voting, supermarket polling booths and electronic voting.

The government said the bill would make it easier for disabled people, the homeless, remand prisoners and people in mental hospitals to register and vote.

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